College Football Strength Ratings: Who's on the move after Week 8?

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Two key games at the top of the strength indicators last week could have been dangerous if the heavily favored teams took them lightly. They didn’t.

Ohio State routed Iowa and Alabama crushed Mississippi State as both teams stayed on track and atop my strength ratings. Neither team was threatened at any point in either game, breaking out to huge first-quarter leads.

At the same time, Georgia and Michigan were off, while Tennessee may as well have been, taking care of business easily against Tennessee-Martin. As a result, this week’s strength ratings update finds very little noticeable change at the top. It could be a totally different story a week from now with four of the top 5 taking on fierce conference rivals in Saturday games this week. Ohio State has perhaps the most difficult test, facing Penn State at Beaver Stadium. Georgia squares off with Florida, Tennessee takes on Kentucky and Michigan hosts Michigan State.

On the other end of the strength ratings, we did have a somewhat surprising win for the team that has dominated the bottom, as Florida International pulled off its second double-digit upset in four weeks by downing Charlotte. We’ll see how that affected the Panthers' positions in the strength indicators. At the very least, you’ll see that they were one of my biggest upward Power Rating movers.

I’ll dig into some of the big upcoming action more as I take a closer look at how my strength indicators reacted to an intriguing Week 8. If you want to dig deeper, check out the complete list of all of my Strength Ratings.

Power Ratings

It was widely assumed that Ohio State would face two really tough assignments in its quest to go unbeaten in the regular season. Test No. 1 comes this week at Penn State. The Nittany Lions made it to 5-0 before falling at Michigan, but they were able to rebound with a decisive victory over Minnesota last weekend. My Power Ratings, which show the Buckeyes as the nation’s top team at 76.5, indicate that OSU should be a 16.7-point favorite at PSU when adjusted for home/road field. The actual line is 15.5 points, meaning there is still some value in laying the points here. This would be a different game if played in the nighttime white-out environment in State College, Pa. In the other big rivalry games I mentioned earlier, Tennessee is the smallest of the favorites, laying 13 points to Kentucky.

Among the noteworthy games that are expected to be more competitive, my Power Ratings show Notre Dame as a 0.3-point favorite at Syracuse, UCF as a 2.3-point home favorite vs. Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State as a -0.8-point choice at Kansas State. Also, don’t overlook the Ole Miss-Texas A&M game, for which my line shows the Aggies by -0.9. The Rebels need to win that one to stay in the hunt for the SEC West title, with Alabama their next opponent out of their bye week.

Biggest upward movers after Week 8

1. East Carolina (+ 3 points)

I’ll admit, I was starting to fall for UCF after the offense exploded in consecutive victories. East Carolina shut the Knights down, however, holding them to 13 points in a 21-point rout victory. The Pirates have been wildly inconsistent this year but find themselves at 5-3 with a very difficult three-game stretch coming up, starting this week at BYU.

2. Florida International (+ 3 points)

I have been battering FIU seemingly every week because the overall strength ratings have shown the Panthers as the country’s worst team, in some cases by significant margins. Fortunately, the games are played on the field, and this team didn’t fall for the bad press. An unexpected upset of Charlotte has FIU sitting at 3-4 after seven games, already matching its DraftKings season win prop. Can the prop be beaten now? Well, it’s not a horribly tough remaining schedule and FIU’s 453 yards of offense gained last week were its most since the 2021 season opener.

3. Bowling Green (+ 2.5 points)

Speaking of DK season win props, I clinched one of my preseason wagers with Bowling Green pulling its second straight upset, winning at Central Michigan 34-18. The Falcons have played the last two weeks as I expected them to at the start of the season. It was only after their 59-57 loss to Eastern Kentucky that I started to doubt my selection. In any case at 4-4, BGSU has positioned itself to make a run at a first bowl bid since 2015, just as I projected.

4. Texas Tech (+ 2.5 points)

Texas Tech has proven to be very competitive in this first season under Joey McGuire. The Red Raiders are 4-3 after their rout of West Virginia and have five rather difficult tests to go to secure two more wins and a bowl invitation. The win against West Virginia was every bit as lopsided as the 48-10 score indicates. Texas Tech won the yardage battle 598-282, a multi-year high for total offense. Tech gets Baylor this week in a huge rivalry game.

Biggest downward movers after Week 8

1. UCF (-3 points)

I don’t know if it was a problem of looking ahead to this week’s showdown against Cincinnati or some other issue, but UCF’s flat effort against East Carolina results in the Knights dropping three points in my Power Rating scale. Still, my numbers suggest they should be favored Saturday, and the latest line is a pick-’em. They obviously need to play a lot better than they did a week ago if they are to beat the Bearcats and stay in the hunt for a berth in the AAC title game.

2. Miami (-3 points)

I could put Miami on the downgrade list seemingly every week as the Hurricanes have been the single most disappointing team in 2022. While sarcasm is likely part of it, the Twitter world is already all about firing coach Mario Cristobal. While six straight point-spread losses and a 3-4 record isn’t encouraging by any means, Miami can still make a difference in the ACC title race with games against Florida State, Clemson and Pitt to come. Of primary concern is an offense that has run for just 64.8 yards per game the last four weeks.

3. West Virginia (-3 points)

West Virginia is another team that has been wildly inconsistent this season but could play a huge role in the Big 12 race this week if the Mountaineers can find the good version of themselves on Saturday. They host TCU in their homecoming game, and the Horned Frogs have not had much luck in this series lately, losing the last six ATS. However, West Virginia is coming off a stinging 48-10 loss in which it allowed 598 yards.

4. BYU (-3 points)

After two weeks, all looked well for BYU coming off big wins against South Florida and Baylor. Since then, the wheels have fallen off. The Cougars have lost three straight games outright and six in a row against the spread. In the latest setback, they were manhandled by Liberty, a fellow independent team still down its starting QB for the season and playing as a 7-point home dog. All the Flames did was outgain BYU 547-258 in a convincing 41-14 victory. This Cougars team was considered a potential New Year’s 6 bowl candidate at the start of the season. Now, at 4-4, they have to fight to just get a bowl bid.

Effective Strength Ratings

Because of some other results across the country, Georgia was able to bump past Alabama in the Effective Strength Ratings into the No. 2 spot, despite being idle and watching as Alabama tagged Mississippi State 30-6. Remember, these ratings are a collective strength indicator of how well a team has played the entire season against the opponents (and the opponents of opponents) it has faced. As a result of some other action, the Bulldogs rose from 45.3 to 45.9 on the ESRs, just enough to go by the Tide, whose ESR is 45.8. Both still trail Ohio State as the nation’s top statistical team, as the Buckeyes' rating of 47.9 is at least two points better than any other team. The No. 4 team remains Tennessee while there is a big 4.1-point drop-off to No. 5 Michigan. One team climbing the last few games has been Oregon, and it might be time to watch the Ducks closely as they are up to No. 12 in the ESRs at 30.1, despite their season-opening 49-3 loss to Georgia still pulling that number down. In their six straight wins since, coach Dan Lanning’s team has scored 49 PPG. Clemson has dropped to No. 14 in the ESRs after a close win over Syracuse. The Tigers’ stats aren’t anywhere near the other playoff contenders now, and the overall health of the CFP might be better served if they lose in the coming weeks.

On the opposite end, Florida International dug itself such a big hole early that it might be impossible to emerge from the bottom spot of the Effective Strength Ratings. However, the Panthers did improve their ESR by 5.4 points with their win over Charlotte. Now they are only 2.7 points away from UMass and 4 points behind Hawaii. Charlotte has seen its ESR drop to -12.1, fifth worst in the country, despite bringing back 14 starters from last season’s 5-7 team.

Bettors Ratings

If you look closely, you will see that the top nine teams in my Power Ratings are the exact same top nine in the Bettors Ratings this week, albeit with some shuffling of the order. The foremost shuffling is at the top, where Alabama remains the most respected team in the betting markets, with a BR of -48.1, an improvement of 0.6 points from last week. Ohio State bumps up to No. 2 but remains a full 1.6 points behind the Crimson Tide. Another 1.3 points back, you’ll find Georgia. It’s at that point where bettors seem to have a conundrum, as they believe the next 10 teams are within five points of one another, but none within 10.5 points of the top 3. In that next group are the usual suspects, including Tennessee, Michigan, Texas, USC and Clemson. Potentially overrated teams include Washington and Pittsburgh, and those perhaps not getting the market respect they deserve include Wake Forest and UCLA.

FIU is the least respected team, with a BR of + 18.1, 66.2 points worse than that of Alabama. UMass and Hawaii are clustered next in line at + 13.7 and + 13.3, respectively, while there is a healthy gap afterward to UConn at + 8.7.

Recent Ratings

The Recent Ratings are, and always will be, where we see the most variation from the other strength indicators. That said, Ohio State again tops this chart, with a RR of 52. The Buckeyes are on fire, and they roll into Penn State playing their best football of the season. To put into perspective what a RR of 52 represents, if OSU was playing at this recent level all season, it would have a current Power Rating of about 80.5. That, of course, would be a full touchdown higher than Alabama’s current PR. Tennessee is next in line in recent performance, with a RR of 47.5. The Vols will be tested by Kentucky and Georgia the next two weeks. Speaking of the Bulldogs, they are No. 3 on the hot list at 43.7. There are some other teams playing very well of late that you might be overlooking, and they round out the top 10 in Recent Rating: Wake Forest, Oregon, Illinois and Texas Tech.

Who is the “coldest” team in college football right now? Well, it’s definitely not Florida International! In fact, FIU is better than seven other teams in the recent rating set. The worst team recently is actually New Mexico, with a RR of -17.4, followed by Nevada (-14.8) and Charlotte (-13.1).

Schedule Strength Ratings

The Schedule Strength Ratings reflect the difficulty of the schedule each team has played so far. For the second straight week, it is Arkansas and Auburn topping the list for schedule difficulty. I can only assume we will see them spend a third straight week atop the list in next article as they square off with one another this week at Auburn. Colorado has also faced a tough schedule, No. 3 in the country, but it figures to only get more difficult after this week’s game versus Arizona State as the Buffaloes must face four of the five toughest Pac-12 teams. Iowa has bumped up into the top four for schedule difficulty after its trip to Ohio State last week.

FIU and UAB have played the easiest schedules in FBS, followed by Ball State, New Mexico State and James Madison. Interestingly, JMU has lost back-to-back games as the slate has become tougher, perhaps ill-prepared by their weak start to the season. You have to go all the way to No. 91 to find the Power 5 team that has played the softest schedule. Believe it or not, that team is Michigan, whose average opponent power rating to date has been 35.3, equivalent to facing a team like Rice on a neutral field each week. Are the Wolverines prepped enough to make another run at the CFP? That remains to be seen.

FCS Teams

After the big win two weeks ago at North Dakota State catapulted them to the top of the FCS Power Ratings, the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State maintain their position. They have a PR of 42, which ranks No. 72 overall in the country when considering both FBS and FCS programs. They boosted their gap this week to two points over Sacramento State and three points over Weber State. However, the latter two teams remain the top Effective Strength Ratings programs in the FCS, with ESRs of 16.9 and 15.8, respectively. The latter number is 3.5 points better than any other team right now. If you’re wondering, those Big Sky rivals are scheduled to go head-to-head Nov. 5 at Weber State. North Dakota State remains on top of the Bettors Ratings, given 3.6 points more respect than any other FCS team. The best teams recently are SDSU and Sacramento State, which as I noted above, are also my highest power-rated teams. Wrapping up the FCS strength ratings analysis, you can dig and find that Portland State (82nd overall) has played the toughest schedule among the second-tier teams. No one in the country has played an easier schedule than St. Thomas-Minnesota.

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